Friday, January 26, 2018

Why Fake News Works

Recently Pope Francis spoke about the phenomenon of fake news.  He said that its finds its roots in the Garden of Eden.  This is a powerful statement in his aligning fake news (propaganda) as rooted in the fall of humanity in Eden.

Fake news is not a new thing.  From the lies and misinformation first used to tricked humanity into turning against God down through ages with the widespread use of propaganda to perpetuate a lie so as to garner power, fake news and its antecedents have long been the favored tool of tyrants to spread lies so as to manipulate populations.

The Father of Lies

All  misinformation and deceit has a satanic source.  It is not without reason that bearing false witness finds itself as a topic in the Ten Commandments.  Bearing false witness/lying breeds confusion deliberately.  Starting with the lie told to Adam and Eve, that God did not want what was good for them, in sowing confusion, so that Satan could more easily turn humanity against God, lies have been sown so as to create chaos and confusion.  Make no mistake, fake news is a tool for those who wish to divide.

Why does the devil want to divide?  The devil is THE anti-Christ, he is the opposite of Christ and His mission.  If Christ came that we might be one (John 17:20-21), then the natural goal of the devil is going to be to sow as much division as possible.  He preys on fear.  To gin up fear, he will utilize lies to create and sustain a atmosphere of mistrust.  If the devil can get us to see each other as the enemy or as suspect, then he has an ample field to work with.

Us versus Them

The devil has been very successful in his endeavor. He has managed to split humanity into so many factions, that we can scarcely cooperate for even those things that effects us all.  No matter how mind-numbingly idiotic the division is, people can be found to nurture and sustain it.  Propaganda has been used by those who have given themselves first and foremost to the most base and evil things of this world to keep power.  They are able to tap into a very base part of fallen humanity; fear of the other.

Fake news is a buffet meant to sustain the lie.  It is a buffet of tasty tidbits.  It is full of salacious gossip, misinterpreted speculation, and glee at another's errors.  Ultimately though, the buffet is thoroughly poisoned.  The more the buffet is eaten from, the more the immunity is broken down. The immunity in question is the that part of our mind and soul that can aptly distinguish between lies and truths.  How on earth, though, can you make a person willingly eat of such a poisoned menu?

Simple.  Wrap the entire menu in a dose of subjectivity; convince the person that they and those who think like them are always right and those who don't now are always wrong.  Deal in absolutes about people.  Reduce people to their being either this or that, but not both. Inflate the pride of the individual to the point that any deviation from their subjective definitions of good and evil must be dealt with in a scorched earth manner.  With the disease sufficiently spread, the immune system of mercy, reason, and forgiveness is defeated.  Hence the fake news is eaten and spread with an unquenchable fury.

The A Priori World of Fake News

Having set groups against each other, it is then easy to set an a priori base that any and all things that the 'other' does must be evil.  Any good that might be done by the 'other' is simply waved away in lieu of it not fitting the predetermined narrative. The good done by the 'other' is dangerous to the a priori narrative pushed by fake news.  Instead of treating individuals as individuals, we treat them as parts of enemy groups.

That is the end goal.  Once any person can successfully marginalize a group, then that person can do anything to that group as they have dehumanized them.   This is the tool of tyrants.  This is the tool for those who have sought to eliminate entire segments of the population.  If I can get you to hate a group, I can get you to turn a blind eye or even get you to join in any evil that I might have planned.

Let's be honest, though.  No one can sell what no one wants to buy.  Because humanity is fallen, because we suffer from the effects of Original Sin, because we struggle with concupiscence, and because we can want the easy path, we are all too ready to have groups defined as those to be liked and those to be hated.  It feeds into our darker selves.

Feeding an Appetite

Humanity struggles with this darker self.  The devil knows this.  God knows this.  Tyrants know this. They know we have dispositions towards envy, wrath, gluttony, and greed.  We can be tempted to see the success of the other as detrimental to our own success.  We can suppose the worst motivations on those who hurt us or disagree with us.  We can see another's belongings as taking away from what I should have.  All of these require as a prerequisite a egotistical pride that measures all things by how it effects me.

Fake news works and is so widespread by virtue of 24/7 media and social media because so many of us want to believe the absolute worst about others.  We want to bolster our identity by tearing down the identity of others.  Furthermore, lacking the work ethic to do this on an individual basis, we merely put whole groups into camps and assign them common beliefs.  This, my friends, is identity politics.

Why It Is a Lie

The narrative falls apart if we choose to examine it with any depth.  First, the human person is complex.  Good and evil motivations can and do exist in the same person.  Because we presume the ability to grow, develop, and change, simply treating a person as a stagnant agent, though convenient for a narrative, is simply not true.  Fake news is designed to force people into a pigeon hole where they consistently stay.  It stymies conversion because it does not desire conversion. However, with most people, given the tools to do so, conversion to the good is possible.

However, we resist this because the conversion of another might well beg the question why we don't change to the better.  I can justify my own hates, biases, and prejudices only so long as the 'other' remains a constant.  When the 'other' changes, it necessitates my own change of how I look at them.  More threatening is the thought if the 'other' might not be always evil and wrong, then is my side always right and good?  Better for most to wallow in a comforting lie than to face an uncomfortable truth.

Looking Beyond the Label

Truth leads us to see people as unique individuals.  Jesus does this.  Instead of summarily dismissing other groups than that to which He culturally belonged, He saw past the categories (Samaritans, Romans, Lepers...) and looked to bringing out the good in them through a restoration of relationship.   To be sure, not all accepted such a generous offer, but the offer is made based on an ability to see in the most sordid of sinners something worth saving and redeeming.  Jesus did not overlook the evil men do, but He did know they were capable of better with the help of His grace.

Hence, we must, as a matter of virtuous discipline, not indulge in the tawdry delight of fake news.  It is  not merely beneath our collective humanity, but directly goes against the heart of the Christian Mission. If our starting point is to presume a person evil, it will be hard to see anything as salvageable in them.  This requires a basic disposition that the role of the entirety of creation is to sate me.  Nothing fuels the taste for fake news like a selfish heart.

We were made for better. Fake news cheapens the person of the person who spreads it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


“Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and earth,

Go, therefore, and make disciples of the nations!

Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Teach them to carry out all that I commanded you.

And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world! Mathew28:18b-20

                These last words of Christ to the Apostles in the Gospel of Matthew are excellent words with which to begin the year 2018.  In these words we find the essential and central mission of the Church.  These words of Christ, a directive to evangelize, are at the very heart of who we are and always have been as the Body of Christ in this world.   When are baptized into the Body of Christ, we are brought into her mission.  During the Anointing with Chrism Oil at baptism, we are directed (be it the adult coming in or the parents of an infant) to share in this evangelical mission of bringing Christ into the lives of all we meet.

Training disciples

                For the apostles who heard these words, they had been given training.  For three years they followed Jesus.  They saw the miracles. They were given instruction is such a way that even the best of seminaries could never provide. They didn’t always get it.  However, what they were given was enough to provoke them to leave the safety and security of everything they knew and proclaim a seemingly ridiculous message throughout the world: a crucified Messiah who frees us from sin and death.

                Christ gives us the same opportunity to learn at His feet.  He gives us a share in His life through the sacraments of the Church, He gives us the educational and spiritual formation of His Church, and He gives us the primary incubator of disciples, the family.  In the coming year, our parish needs to help bolster each of these elements.  It is our job as a parish to make sure that we have not just the tools to get about the work of the Kingdom, but that we have the best of tools.

                It is times like this where remembering who we are as Catholics transcends mere parish boundaries. One of the challenges of being pastor of two parishes, especially when the size of those parishes are as different as they are, is that I must acknowledge that elements such as budget, staff, and volunteers must be taken into account as to how we approach our task of evangelization.  Christ and His Church do not differentiate the call to evangelization based on the size of a parish.  Remember, the earliest churches were small and in homes. In some of the things I am purposing, both parishes will need to take into account the abilities of the other and help each other as is fit; that is part and parcel of our catholicity.

Training through the Sacraments          
              All of our efforts will fall short without the grace of God.  A Catholic who exempts themselves from the sacramental life of the Church is doomed to failure in living its mission.  Without the sacraments we lose sight of why we do what we do. Without the sacraments the essential character of the Church is reduced to a social club or social work club.  I am not saying that either of these are evil.  In fact, a healthy parish has a familial bond that brings us together and a outreach to the larger community, especially to the needy of the local community.  However, the Church is more than that. 

                In the sacraments we are given the grace necessary to live out the essential catholic charism: evangelization.  Each sacrament is given to bolster that grace in the life of a member of the Body of Christ so as to engage in evangelization as God sees fit.   They are pathways for the Holy Spirit to breathe the boldness and wisdom necessary to live the life of Christ in such a way as to go and make disciples.  The sacraments, when received in a state of grace (baptism gives us this gift),   insert the life of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, so as to embolden us to engage.  When that state of grace is lost through mortal sin, the Confession must be done to restore it so that the other sacramental graces given us are not squandered.

                Part of the things I wished to do to bolster this have already started.  It is why in adult education I am focusing on the Mass.  Last semester we went through the Constitution on the Liturgy (Sancrosanctum Concilium) and we will be doing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the second semester.  This class meets in the parish hall at SS Peter and Paul at 7PM on most Tuesdays staring on the 9th of January. It is why I have already greatly expanded the times for confession in both parishes. It is why I am speaking frequently about the sacraments during the homilies.  Over the next year, we will also be evaluating the preparation programs for the sacraments so as to make sure we are giving those who are being formed into the sacramental life of the Church the best available tools.

                It is why I will be absolutely insistent that anyone who calls themselves Catholic within the parish boundaries is going to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day.  If chronic illness or advanced age prevents that, I have an army of Eucharistic Ministers and myself to bring the sacraments to them.  I try to get out once a month to afford access to the Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick to our ill and aged. I have others in the Boonville Correction Facility who I will now go to twice a month to afford them Mass and Confession.  Everyone else, if they are going to be authentic about their faith, MUST avail themselves to the Mass and Confession.  We cannot engage in the mission of the Church if we are starving ourselves of the ability to do so.

                Because the sacramental life of the Church is essential to our Catholic identity, being on a parish roster will not be considered enough unless one is ill and of advanced age (unable to get out).  Too many times, people will put themselves on parish rosters so as to have access to a parochial school for free.  Our diocese does not charge parishioners for tuition on the belief that Catholics who put their children into our schools are living the faith.  Chronically exempting oneself and one’s children from the sacramental life of the Church tells me that what is actually being sought is a free private education and not a Catholic education.  I have no interest in fully supplementing a private education.  I also have no interest in throwing people off of our parish roster.  However, I am asking that such families be honest and either start living the sacramental life of the Church or be removed from our roster and be tuition families.  We must be honest.

The Domestic Church

                The Catholic Church sees as its most basic building block an entity called the domestic church, that is, the church of the family. The family is where the lessons of faith are most powerfully taught by word and deed.  The example of the parents in the way they do or do not live their faith will be the primary influence on the faith of their children.  This is especially true for the dad of the family.  The faith or faithlessness of the dad is the single largest determining factor of whether the children grow to embrace the Catholic faith themselves.

                The family is the first place of evangelization.  Children are the first targets of evangelization on the part of their parents.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2221-2231, make clear that the role of the parents in the reception and nurturing of faith in their children is paramount.  For example: “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children.  They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.”  (CCC 2225)

                I invite moms and dads to read the entirety of these sections from the Catechism.  These are the duties that you told God you would undertake when you had your children baptized.    The role I play within the larger parish as a pastor, you moms and dads (again, particularly the dads) play within your family.  Inasmuch as it would be scandalous for me to use my position to drive a wedge between my flock and the Church or my flock and God, so it is scandalous for parents to do the same with their children.  To this end, Jesus warns us, “Scandals will inevitably arise, but woe to him through whom they come. He would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than to give scandal to one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-1)

Helping You Help Them

                Each parish has a responsibility to help those who are the primary teachers in the ways of the faith.  Many times, though, the primary teachers had the necessary knowledge and formation withheld from them when they were young.  It is hard to hand on what one does not have.  I realize that for many decades Catholic catechesis has been lacking.  In some cases, it has been seriously lacking.  This must be fixed.

                To this end, our parishes have given access to an excellent online program called ‘Formed’ to give parents a forum to deepen their own understanding of the faith and give them an opportunity to be the primary teachers of the faith they are called to be.  I know many parents feel inadequate to the task to be primary teachers.  We want to help you rise to the standard and be for your child who they need you to be and who God wants you to be.

                Starting in January, we will be starting the ‘Choice Wine’ series for our married couples in order to help them be what they are called to be.  It will be started at SS Peter and Paul.  If there are people from St. Joseph who would like to be facilitators for this, I will most happily point you in the right direction.  Again, given the catholic nature of our faith, it is not merely desirable that parishes act in tandem and cooperation, it is absolutely necessary.  I also have the “Beloved’ series if some would like to try that.  The Beloved Series is available on the Formed website.

Partners, not Replacements

                Whether your child is in a parochial school, a PSR program, or a confirmation class, parents are called to be partners in the process.  As already said, parents are the first teachers.  We offer various educational opportunities to supplement what should be going on in the home.  No Catholic teacher, however brilliant they may be, will be able to counteract fully the lack of teaching that may be missing from the parent.

                In the coming months we will be developing ways in which parents are given more of a role in the spiritual and sacramental development of their children.  It is not the job of a teacher to be the primary teacher and witness to the faith.  They must be witnesses to the faith to be sure, but, it is the parents’ responsibility to be the primary teacher.  Just as in the classroom there is a necessity to make sure what is being taught is not a personal interpretation of the truth, so it is in the home.  Parents are every bit as responsible for upholding the truth of Christ and His Church as I am as a pastor.

                I am a big believer that pastors and parishes cannot gripe about behavior that they enable.  More often than not we enable behavior because changing behavior is much more difficult.  However, the task of the parish is to make sure that each of her members is living up to their evangelical call.  I know this might represent a massive shift in how we do business.  However, if my goal as a pastor is to guide the parish in its totality to Christ, then my call necessitates reaching out and correcting the ship even if it is the only ship in the harbor to be corrected.  What happens in other parishes is not my responsibility; what happens in my parishes is my responsibility.  This is why I want myself and my staff to be your partners in the development of our youth into Catholic disciples ready to live their baptismal call.

               The family is the first place where faith is formed.  It is even the primary place where the faith is formed.  Family members are bolstered in this role in the sacramental life of the Church.  However, faith has a definitive look and set of beliefs within the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church, while it does value the emotional response, wants that emotional response to be grounded in truth.  In the Catholic Church, faith and reason go hand in hand.

It’s not a children’s book

              The Catholic faith is a wide ranging set of truths that all are intertwined with each other.  The Catholic faith is not a faith of compartments where faith applies to some compartments and not others. The Catholic faith is an integrated whole.  Understanding it is not easy.  Like most systems of advanced thought or sciences, Catholic theology circles around a few foundational premises that inform all the teachings.  The application of these teachings must be understood to teach them effectively.

              This is why learning the faith is important.  What we do in any and all education programs is to help in both the understanding of the tenets of the faith and the principles under which they are applied.  This is why the Church demands that her clergy have at least a master’s level education.  It is why bishops are to be fastidious in overseeing the content of catechetical materials to be used.  It is why pastors are to have that same knowledge of what is being taught to their parishioners and are to be seen with the same role within the parish as a parent is in the family: the primary teacher.

              The Church does want us to grasp these concepts.  The Catholic Church has it written in the words of Scripture and in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Both of these are complicated documents.  The Church wants all her members to have broad knowledge of both.  The Church is also aware that simply giving either of these documents without any training can lead to error. The Catechism and the Sacred Scriptures are not children’s books that are easily understood or implemented. 

Help Me Help You

                As a pastor of souls, one of my major tasks is to help each parishioner to understand our Catholic faith.  I have several venues to do this. 
                The first venue is the pulpit.  I know in the 10 minutes or so I have on Sundays and elsewhere, I have a group in front of me to whom I am responsible for teaching the truth.  The homily is to use the words of Scripture to point to the truth and suggest practical application of the truth to our everyday lives.  To waste that time with fluff and pablum or to use that time to poison the minds and souls of my parishioners by promoting error  are both offenses before which I would have to answer to God.

               The second venue I am given is in my writing.  As you can tell, I use the Pastor’s Pen as a venue to explain the faith.  I also use social media and my blog to expound on the truth of the Catholic faith.

                The third major venue I am given is the classroom.  I spend some time most days in some classroom setting.  I try to get in see the classes in our school and other educational venues.  I teach adult education, bring in speakers for our Tapping into Theology, and use what venues I have to teach.

                 To do this means I have to appropriate my time wisely.  To be able to be coherent in these tasks necessitates me continuing to educate myself and be sure my spiritual life is continuing to develop.  Consequently, I read most every day.  I make sure prayer is a daily part of my regimen.  I make choices at what gets air time in my brain and what doesn’t.  What gets priority in my life is based on what helps me to execute the duties I have as a teacher and pastor of souls.  I can’t give what I don’t have.

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have

                   No more than I as a pastor can give my parishioners anything solid in the passing on of the faith, nor can anyone.  I am aware of this.  This is why I teach and try to use the pulpit as I should.  It is to give you the tools.  It is why I had our parishes subscribe to Formed.  This way each parishioner with internet access has a way to get to excellent content  and better teachers than myself and have that access 24/7.  

                    It is also why I am absolutely insistent that Catholic parents are regularly practicing the faith and being formed in the faith.  Without God’s grace, all the correct data in the world will go nowhere quickly.  It is not just a matter that I want to see my parish parents succeed.  I do.  The point is that I NEED my parish parents to succeed.  Their kids need their parents to succeed at this most important task. 

                    It is not just parents though.  Each member of our parish, regardless of age, gender, education level, or socioeconomic level, is necessary to the engagement of this parish with the fallen away of our neighborhoods and the unchurched of the same neighborhoods.  There are so many people out there who are searching for truth.  There are many voices saying they have the truth.  We have to be more convincing about the actual truth.   Because the Catholic faith is a lived truth, practice of the faith is absolutely essential to the ability to evangelize.

Our Reason for Being

                   The role of evangelization is not something extraneous to the lived expression of the Catholic life; it is the core of it. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples after the Resurrection to go home and keep to themselves what they had seen and heard.  He told them, rather, to go baptize the nations.  He told them to teach the nations all that He had taught them as disciples. He told them to trust that He would be with them.  Since that time, men and women have transversed the entirety of the known world, bringing with them the message of the Gospel.  The apostles, the early missionaries, the missionaries who went into barbarian territory, the missionaries who crossed oceans to new worlds, and the current day missionaries who use electronic and conventional media, all continue that mission.

                    That mission to evangelize is not limited to these select few. It is meant for all who have passed through the waters of baptism.  Consider the Parable of the Talents in which great wealth was given to three persons with the command to use it wisely.  We are given the sacraments, the Scriptures, the catechism, and the devotional life.  We are given access to a great fount of knowledge.  We have been given the five talents; let us use them wisely to help build up the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Your Keeping Using That Word....

The movie, "The Princess Bride", is quite the quotable movie.  There are a number of great lines.  I am particularly fond of the line "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."   This is a response to a character who keeps using the word 'inconceivable" repeatedly, most of the times not being appropriate to the situation.  It's funny because many times people will use words repeatedly and not get what the word actually means.

Sometimes, it is rather tragic. One such word that people bandy about is the word 'believe' or 'belief'. Most people mean that they hold a intellectual premise as true.  However, their actions would not show that they actually do hold the premise to be true.  Belief, as such,  is seen to be a stagnate entity, a set of words etched into the words of a page, but not connected to anything beyond the words.   Many times a belief is reduced to a an academic truth.  Belief is more.  In fact, with this 'more', one can rightfully question whether one does believe at all; whether they are using a word that does not mean what they think it means.

If one truly believes a proposition, one's actions will show that.  For example, if I say I believe Copperheads are poisonous, it will change how I respond to or treat a Copperhead.  If I say I believe it but handle a Copperhead as if  were an earthworm, you might well question whether I actually believe or not.  Yes, it is factually accurate that Copperheads are poisonous and my belief is well founded, but if my actions do not follow through with said belief, then I take an unnecessary risk.  If my beliefs follow through, not only will I not handle the Copperhead like an earthworm, I will be cautious and teach others to be cautious.

Today, in the Catholic Church, is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  The name 'Jesus' means 'god saves.'  The name is itself an belief.  It sets the essential reason for being of the Incarnate God; He comes to save.  Save whom?  Humanity.  From what? Sin and death.  I think most Christians would save they believe this.  I would hope so, but do our actions follow through?

Jesus isn't the only entity out there saying they can save us.  In fact, the entities are legion.  Who we actually believe will save us, will be the entity we conform our lives to.  For example, if I think sports save, then the focus of how I make decisions and set my priorities will reflect that.  I will sacrifice time for other things to bolster it.  I might not say 'sports save' but my actions will betray the internal disposition, whether I name it or not.  You can just as easily replace the word 'sports' with wealth, fame, honor, power, pleasure, or a whole host of other things and get the same result.  The purpose is not to say that any of these things are evil by their nature (they are not), but when Jesus gets the leftovers and not the first fruits, we are saying that we believe something else saves me.

I can say I believe the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Factually, I would accurate. However, you will see the depth of that belief by whether of not I go to Mass, the attitude I have to it, the attitude I have toward Eucharistic Adoration, the attitude I have to state of my soul...and so on.  You will notice it in the way I receive.  You will notice in the way I handle the Eucharist as to see whether the belief has any depth or place.  Again, belief motivate changes in behavior.

To use sports again (just because it is easier), if I truly believe that sports save me it will effect my willingness to practice, strength train, to eat correctly, to get enough sleep, how I spend my time and money, and will become the first priority.  I will be okay with sacrificing the time and energy that might go to other entities (family, faith) in order to pursue what I think saves me. Sports are good...they are great in my humble opinion.  Furthermore sports and exercise are essential to good health.  But they do not save.  No earthly venture does.  How we set priorities tells God much about what we truly believe.

If belief is stagnant or has no bearing on our choices, how we can stand before God with any authenticity and say that we believed in Him. It is not enough to proclaim, even publicly,  "Jesus is my Lord and Savoir", if our actions do not show that such a belief changes who we are and conforms our life to His. Saying I believe is not enough...actual belief, that which will provoke change in our lives and will inform our priorities, that is what Christ ask for.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Homily for SS Basil the Great and Gregory Nanzianzen

"Call no man your father." We hear these words in Gospel for the propers for the feast of St Gregory and St Basil. Yet, the Church has us call her priest, 'father'.  Is the Church telling us to disobey Jesus or is there something larger going on? Many of the religious authorities of Jesus' time wanted honor.  Whether their actions merited such honor was neither here nor there. Jesus wants His followers to seek humility rather honor.  "Who exalts himself will be humbled, who humbles himself will be exalted" as per the end of the Gospel of today.  The Church, in having her priests called 'father' is not so much reminding the people to honor as they are reminding the priest continually of the role they play.  We priests are not seek honor without being honorable.

Why this Gospel for this feast?  If one looks into the lives of these two great teachers, priests, bishops, and friends, one see two men who did not seek to outdo each other in the honor they could be paid, but in the virtue that they lived. That virtue would be put to the test as both men had to stand up to those who perpetuated a popular heresy called Arianism.  Arianism taught that Jesus was not the Son of God.  This teaching throws into question the saving plan of the Father and the effectiveness of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Both men would have to stand up to the Emperor Valens, who wanted to make Arianism the state religion.  Both men knew that do what is right, they must be willing to risk everything, including every ounce of honor afforded them as bishops, to uphold orthodoxy and truth.

These two men become models for us.  It is easy to capitulate to false teaching in order to maintain honor or popularity.  This is true for priests.  This is true for parents.  We cannot be so attached to power, wealth, pleasure, or honor that we compromise truth for the sake of not being hassled. Leadership within the church, be it domestic, parochial, diocesan, or universal must rise above such attachments and humble itself to the will of God.  Sometimes that is hard...very hard.  Sometimes it is risky.  Many times it is resented. It would have been easier in the short term for Gregory and Basil to capitulate to the popular, but they would have to kill off every ounce of virtue they had to do so.

St. Basil and St Gregory model for us that virtue is found in clinging on to the truth despite the storms that might come. In their willingness to be humiliated for the truth, they are exalted in heaven. We cannot expect any less for ourselves.  Leadership is hard.  It means unpopular decisions and standing tall against those false teachings that would have us compromise away the integrity of the faith.  We pray for the intercession of SS Basil and Gregory as we rise to the battles our leadership demands and ask for the same grace to charitably but forcefully hold onto and teach the truth of Jesus Christ in its entirety.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary. Mother of God

In the early centuries of the Church, there was much our forefathers struggled with understanding.  Who was Jesus of Nazareth?  Describing who He is defied any conventional understandings as so much of who He is is not confined to any knowledge of time and space as we know it.  Some believed that He was only God and not actually a human being.  Some believed He was only a man and not God.  Some believed that He was both but that one nature edged out the other.  It became necessary for the Church to call for gatherings of the bishops to hammer these things out because the answer to these questions radically changed belief.  The meetings are called ecumenical councils, starting with Nicea in the year 325.  In 431, the bishops met at the city of Ephesus.  One of the pronouncements that came out was what is called the Theotokos...that is, that Mary is the Mother of God...the God bearer.

The Council fathers didn't mean that Mary somehow gave birth to the Trinity or existed before the Trinity as a mother predates the existence of her child.  The teaching of Theotokos, which we celebrate at the end of the 8 days that make up the Octave of Christmas, speaks to her son.  The teaching is that Jesus is fully God and fully man, in being and nature.  All of this is united in the person of Jesus Christ, born into this world through the obedience of the Virgin Mary.

In this solemnity, we give thanks to God for the obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary to His will. Her becoming the Theotokos was a result not of God's force, but of her obedience to God's love. Being the Theotokos, she is the first disciple, the first apostle, and the first evangelist. Her obedience makes possible the forward progression of God's salvific plan for humanity. This feast which bookends the celebration of Jesus' humanity in the Incarnation with the celebration of His divinity has much to teach us.

The feasts of the Church are more than beautiful portraits on the wall of the museum for us delight in their beauty.  No, they always tell us something of what God expects of us. In the Gospel, we again hear of the first hearers of the Incarnation, the shepherds;  a group that desperately needed  this proclamation of the Incarnation and the attendant salvation brought through it. They go and tell Mary and Joseph what they have seen and heard. What happens to these shepherds after this event , we do not know. However, even this points to the essential charism of the Church.

The obedience of Mary to God's will, an obedience that made her the Theotokos, is to modeled in out own life.  Though we do not do it in the identical way Our Blessed Mother did, we are called by virtue of our baptism to be a theotokos ourselves.  In our own obedience to God's will, we are able to bear God to those, who like the shepherds, dwell in the darkness of sin and unbelief.  It once again reminds us of the evangelical call of the Church to go make disciples of the nations; something that will once again be driven home in the coming Solemnity of the Epiphany.  This evangelization is core to the purpose of the Church; we are called to be a theotokos to others until Christ comes again.

Be clear, though, that it is by God's grace that we are a theotokos; we must have the sanctifying grace of God within us to bear Him.  Disobedience to God's will through sin damages, obscures, or even evicts that presence of God; we cannot be a theotokos and a bearer of sin at the same time.  We must choose. As we come into this new year, let us ask God for the grace to be a theotokos and for the grace to defend against anything that would harm such a call. As Mary is, we are called to be.  Let us not turn from such a divine calling, but embrace it with the totality of who we are.      

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

I have a question for you all today.  What is the most dominant image used in the Scriptures to describe the relationship God wants with us?  Servant/master?  Soldier/general? No, almost exclusively, the image is that of a family.  Familial terms are used to describe what God wants when it comes to us.  This is a departure from other religions, where the gods really didn't like humanity and at best considered some of their favored as pets...rarely taking one to be a child.  The God of the Scriptures? The God who is a family (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) creates us to be family with Him and each other for eternity.

When Jesus reveals the first person of the Trinity, He reveals Him as Father. He reveals Himself as Son. He refers to the Church as His bride. We are referred to as adopted sons and daughters of God our Father, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  These are not hallmark sentiments, but a reality that God makes clear.  The family matters.  How much so?

In the first two readings we hear of the person of Abraham.  God promises to make of him a people for Himself.  From this unlikely source ( a childless couple), He will raise up a single family of Sarah, Abraham, and Isaac.  That family would grow into a clan and then a nation.  It all starts with God intervention in one family.  When the second person of the Trinity comes into the world, He is placed by the Father's will into a family.  The Father gives the responsibility of raising the Messiah to Mary and Joseph. Why?  Although Jesus is indeed fully God, he is also fully human.  That means his human brain and body needed to develop and grow as well.  This precious task is entrusted to Mary and Joseph.  I am willing to bet if we were able to see the internal workings of this holy family, we wold not see Joseph saying to either Mary or Jesus, "It's your job to make me happy!" This would not have been out of line for the times in which the holy family arose.  Neither to I think we would have Mary tell Joseph or Jesus, "It is your job to make me happy!" Nor can I imagine Jesus saying to his parents, "It is you job to make me happy!".  What binds the person of the holy family is the same thing that binds the persons of the Trinity:self-giving love.

It is that self-giving love that binds our families as well. The stronger this love, the stronger the family.  The stronger the family, the stronger every institution to which that family belongs becomes. It is for this reason that the Church refers to the family as the domestic church. It is in these incubators of faith that the husband and wife and their children grow in love, grow in faith, and grow in the image and likeness of God.  What I am to a parish, you parents are within your family.  The healthier our families, the healthier our parish.

Mind you, we are not the only people that get how key the family is.  I am currently reading the "Lion of Munster". Munster is a city in Germany and lion in question is a man, a bishop, named Clemens Von Galen.  He was the bishop of Munster as Hitler rose to power and through WWII. Bp. Von Galen had to do battle with the 3rd Reich who insisted in putting NAZI propaganda in the Catholic classroom.  He had to contend with the family-destroying Hitler Youth, who were part of the effort to take for the state the responsibility parents had in raising their children; even turning those children against their parents should their parents speak ill of the Reich. In fact, every totalitarian dictatorship or wanna-be dictatorship tries to appropriate for themselves the duties of the parents.  Our secular society is no exception.

Our secular society attacks the family a regular basis.  It has so redefined marriage and family life so as to render it irrelevant and sterile.  It did this by divorcing the marital act (human sexuality) from the marital bond and turned it into a recreational activity.  It threw in copious amounts of artificial birth control and pornography so as weaken the bonds all the more. Marriage and family life became the enemy to human happiness. Children, if one must have them at all, were props to make the parent look good. It permeates our entertainment and even advertisements (including children's programming) with an special dose of venom for dads, who are often portrayed as clueless, self-absorbed, and childish..if they are even present at all.  This is not hyperbole!  Witness what is happening in Japan, which is already in a demographic free-fall and which is worsening as the young men have become enamored with porn instead of relationships.  It also is devastating Italy, France, Germany, Russia....and on and on.  The devil is working overtime to destroy the family.

Mom and dad, you are the sentinel at the door. I could not imagine Mary and Joseph allowing something into their home that would hurt the child Jesus. Your job is not easy.  It gets harder when you divorce yourself from the sacramental life of the Church.  We need God's grace to live up to the great responsibility which we are given.  To sacramentally  starve ourselves endangers the essential mission of the family.  Study after study paints a rather grim portrait of what happens when the parents are disengaged from the practice of the faith..particularly the dads. If the dad is disengaged from the faith, regardless of the devotion or lack thereof of the mom, the likelihood of the child embracing and living the faith is under 25%.  If he is engaged, again regardless of the devotion of the mom, it rises to 65%...if both parents are engaged, it goes to 85%.  How you parent matter!

This is why I am becoming very insistent  that if a family has their children in any of our education programs or school, that regular practice of the faith, especially being at Sunday Mass, is a must. You will notice not so much a shift in policy as much as a upholding and enforcement of policy that for a child to be in our school as a registered parishioner means I see them and the family...including dad...on the weekends.  If I as a pastor allow 'Catholic in name only', I cannot complain when parents shoot for 'Catholic in name only.'  Like a good father, I have to shoot for what is best.  The parents need to be here because of the task they have before God.  I can ill afford to be okay with them not being given the tools to do their task.  In fact, in the New Year, our parish is starting a program called 'New Wine' which is aimed at strengthening marriages.  Strengthen the marriage, strengthen the family.  If our parish is to flourish as it should, then it is on our interest to bolster marriage and family life and to actively against what would despoil  the family and marriage.

Why?  Because the point of this feast is not merely to look at the Holy Family as if it were a masterpiece in a museum, but to see in the Holy Family what we ourselves as followers of Christ are to become.  We refer to the union of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as a HOLY family...not a good family...not a nice family...but a holy family.  Hence the goal for our families is not be a good family, a nice family, a sports family, a rich family, a successful family.  No, the goal is to have holy families.  That takes God.  As we move into 2018...let that be the goal for your family: to becomes holy family!       

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

There is no Beige Season

Earlier today, I happened upon a thought of Bishop Robert Barron disparaging what he called the 'beige church.' It has stuck with me through the day.

Beige is a neutral color. For many, such as myself, it is a boring and non-descript hue.  It is the color of winter where I live.  It is a color without statement...inoffensive, bland, non-threatening.  The Church uses many different colors to inform us of a liturgical reality. They are meant to incite some spiritual response.  The inform us of a liturgical season.  In my parish, we talk of Mass settings specific to seasons, which I lump into the Green Season, the Purple Seasons, and the White Seasons.  There are no beige seasons.  There are no seasons of the Church that are meant to lull into a inoffensive state of niceness.

Yet, a fair statement might be made that so many in leadership, both lay and cleric, strive for a beige church. The beige church is one of comfort.  It is easy.  It demands little spiritually.  It gives nothing spiritually. It wraps itself in a bland corporate visage.  It preaches as if the goal is to soothe into a hushed silence or comatose spiritual state of existence.  It plays like a new age ditty, repeatedly hitting the three same chords over and over again until the listener has either gone mad  or fallen asleep.  It is uninspiring and easy to leave.

Its churches are not churches any longer, but worship spaces.  They are paeans to mediocrity and even ugliness. They lack either the soaring heights of the gothic, the swirling arches of the baroque, or even the stark majesty of the Cistercian. The beige church lacks either the regal simplicity of chant or the bombast of organ, it lacks the color of procession, the urgency of preaching, and the scent of holiness.  All replaced for the tidy look of a bank lobby, the easily dismissible mundanity of beige walls, singsong Muzak droning in the background, and condescending banal messages masquerading as homilies.  Neither the thundering theophany nor the still quiet voice find a home here. The senses are anesthetized into a spiritual coma content on the sound of its own breathing.

Given the rich heritage of artistry and theology we have been given, to reduce the Church to a beige entity is to bleed her dry.  Those that bled her dry were not beige themselves.  No, they ran crimson with malice, emerald with envy, and soaked with scarlet in their lust.  The colorful spectrum that disperse the light that had the ability to overshadow these garish hues had to be painted over by a nice coat of beige.

I have yet to ever see a beige battle standard.  Battle standards often stand out for their brilliant and bold shades meant to hearken its followers to courage and its enemies to fear. The thunderous message of Christ Crucified and Resurrected should spur us to the field of battle; our anthems blaring like the hosts of heaven. Even our silences should roar like the thunder of a coming storm.

There should be no room in our parish life, in our personal lives, nor our spiritual lives for the blandness and inoffensiveness of beige.  God's grace does not leave in such a colorless place. The Blood of Christ runs a brilliant red, not beige.  The Church is to actively soar to the heights, not sleep like a winter field.  Its rhetoric is there to compel conversion, comfort the afflicted, and spur the troops to victory. Like bold colors, it offends the sensibilities of the comfortable. It stirs up and shatters the darkness boldly and without apology.

Give me this church and we turn the tide.  This church, and not the church of beige, captures the attention of a warrior's heart and valor. Give me the Church that stands boldly against oppressors even in the face of certain death. Give me the Church that can have the soft stir of a symphony and its booming movements as well. Give me a Church that assaults my senses instead of numbing them.  Give me a Church that possesses all of what Christ gave all His strength and boldness.

We can send the beige church to a liturgical ash heap and dismiss it as an experiment in niceness and mediocrity that failed miserably.  We better do so quickly while there are some left.